A provocative thread of mystery has always pervaded the music of Sade Adu. In the ’80s, when the songstress and her band captured hearts and imaginations with hits like Sweetest Taboo and Smooth Operator, her smoky vocals and the bands jazzy groove lit up the airwaves. But the band always played hard to get, taking extended breaks between albums and never giving away too much about itself. Over the past three decades and through their six albums, Sade has solidified her status as Queen of the Quiet Storm.
The ten-year break between 2000s critically acclaimed Lovers Rock and her latest, Soldier of Love, has not dulled Sade and her bands creative edge. Her voice is still as sensual and evocative as ever, and the band - guitarist Stuart Matthewman, keyboardist Andrew Hale, and bassist Paul Denman - has expanded its sound, incorporating elements of folk and trip hop. Working with longtime producer Mike Pela, Sade has created a collection of songs about love and longing that deserves to take its place next to Sades finest work.
Typical of Sades work, Soldier.. is comprised of mellow ballads, acoustic guitar-driven tunes, and one or two uptempo songs. The album opens with the ballad Moon and the Sky, a longing lament punctuated by mournful guitar picking and piercing harmonies. Youll always know/the reason why/we couldnt have/the moon and the sky, Sade sings, effortlessly drawing the listener into the world of her story.
Lead single and title track Soldier of Love proves a stunning reintroduction to the band. A stark solo trumpet heralds the beginning of the song before a heavy martial beat arrives. Sade sings of persevering in spite of lost love. I’ve lost the use of my heart/But I’m still alive I’m at the borderline of my faith/I’m at the hinterland of my devotion. The feel of the song recalls Sades own King of Sorrow (from Lovers Rock), but sonically, its unlike anything in her catalog.
Throughout the album, Sade and her band flesh out their sound in a variety of ways. Morning Bird features an elegiac, piano-driven opening that then transitions into Sades yearning vocal. On In Another Time, a soulful horn figure saunters through the middle of the song as Sade sings, In another time, girl/your tears wont leave a trace.
Bring Me Home is one of the albums upbeat tracks. Featuring a trip-hop beat, the song deals with spirituality with lyrics like The smallest step I need to take is like a mountain stretched out like a lazy dog. As with all of Sades lyrics, the simplest words convey complex emotions.
A story of love and parenthood, Babyfather boasts a reggae beat and joyous childrens choir, while the sleek, lounge-ready Skin is a quiet kiss-off (Now as I begin/to was you off my skin/I wanna peel you away/cuz youre not right within).
The album ends where it began, with reference to staying the course for the sake of love on the album closing The Safest Place (My heart has been the lonely warrior/In my heart, your love has found the safest hiding place). In the world of Sade, love is king, even - or perhaps, especially - when its wrecking you.